Whether you are meeting a French client or opening an office in Paris, being aware of the French business culture is essential to your company’s success.
Located in the heart of Western Europe, France ranks among the top consumer markets in the world and is one of the world’s largest export hubs. These factors, among others, makes France a great market for businesses around the world. If you want to succeed with your business in France, here are five key cultural faux pas to avoid:
1. Not Taking Your Appearance Seriously
You may have heard the phrase, “you only get one chance to make a first impression.” Well this is also true in France. The first impression may have a strong impact on the outcome of your business relationship. In France, first impressions are heavily dependent on appearance. Remember, France is a country known for fashion. In France, the way you dress is a symbol of your social status and relative success. Therefore, high quality and conservative suits and accessories are recommended. Women should dress fashionable but not over accessorize. Grooming is also important. For men, beards should be trimmed. Your first impression can leave a lasting impact on your potential business partner or client.
2. Lack of Respect for the Local Language
The official language of France is French. The French language is highly regarded as a symbol of the culture, and the French are extremely proud of their language. As such, people of France generally prefer to speak and to be spoken to, in French despite their knowledge and fluency in the English language. If you don’t speak French, learning basic words and phrases will be highly appreciated by your French counterparts. Even a simple greeting, such as “Bonjour,” will be appreciated. If you don’t speak French, apologize for not knowing the language up front. You will be forgiven, but speaking the French language incorrectly will be viewed negatively.
3. Focusing on the Sell vs. the Relationship
Business relationships are an important part of French business culture. In fact, relationships must be formed first before business can begin. The French are interested in building long-term business relationships that are maintained through regular face-to-face meetings. Therefore, don’t expect to do business right away. Also, the French maintain a clear distinction between business and personal life, so business relationships should never be mistaken for friendships.
4. Being too Casual
France is a very formal nation; therefore formality is highly regarded. Avoid using first names. Instead, when meeting someone for the first time or communicating with superiors, address them using Monsieur or Madame. The use of first names is mainly reserved for close friends and family. Therefore, wait until invited before using someone’s first name. Also, titles should be used in both written and in face-to-face communications.
5. Failure to Plan in Advance
In the French culture, appointments are necessary and should be made at least two weeks in advance. When planning for meetings in France, remember to avoid the months of July and August, as this is usually the most common vacation period. Punctuality is also highly appreciated in France, although in some regions the time factor is more relaxed.
When planning for your sales meeting in France, keep in mind business is often slow. Having an aggressive sales approach will only dissuade your French counterparts. Therefore, you should avoid high-pressure sales tactics and confrontations. Aggressive selling techniques will not generate a positive response. Instead, be patient as decisions are usually not made during the first meeting. Also, keep in mind that French companies tend to be very hierarchical and decisions will be made at the top level.
Launching a business in France can be exciting and lucrative. However, adapting to the French business culture is essential to your business success and can make or break a deal.
Staff Writer, The Global Business Advisor Magazine